Impulsion is the fourth level of the training pyramid and refers to the pushing power of the horse. As the horse progresses through his training, he will be asked to carry more and more weight on his hindquarter. As those muscles develop, the horse’s ability to propel himself forward increases. In order to propel himself, the horse must adequately reach underneath his body with his hind legs.
Many things contribute to the horse’s impulsion. First is musculature. The horse must be given adequate time and proper training to develop the muscles of the hindquarter. This can be achieved by performing exercises that require the horse to use his hindquarter. Transitions within a gait (i.e. – collecting and extending) are a good way to increase impulsion. Using smaller circles (training level appropriate) and effective half halts also aid in teaching the horse to engage his hindquarter. The half halt essentially builds energy by momentarily slowing/stopping forward movement. A properly ridden circle forces the horse to step underneath himself while moving forward, thus developing the muscles of the hind quarter.
As with all parts of the training pyramid, impulsion takes time. It is imperative that the horse be relaxed in order for his hind legs to be free to step forward and underneath. The rider must have good riding position and be using the correct driving aids. The horse moves from the back to the front without being restricted by the rider’s aids. The flow of energy must be such that it can move through the horse in an unrestricted manner.
Impulsion starts at the walk and carries through to the canter. If the horse does not have a good, supple and elastic walk, achieving impulsion will be nearly impossible. Good muscle and joint use is essential to impulsion and is developed in the early stages of training especially with regard to relaxation. Tension leads to less elastic muscles which yields an inability to reach underneath. If done correctly, the horse with impulsion will be able achieve greater focus and release nervous energy.
The Impulsion Level of the Training Pyramid is the beginning of the self carrying portion of Dressage. This also includes Straightness and Collection. As the horse develops Impulsion, his strides will become more powerful, forward and elevated. This horse is accepting of the rider’s aids and quick to respond.